Ipe vs. Composite Decking: Which One to Use?

Ipe vs. Composite Decking: Which One to Use?

Handyman's World is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

You have to be sure you are using the right material when constructing a deck. Decks must support a lot of weight and if the wrong material is used, people can get hurt and property can get damaged. But alongside this, the right material makes a deck look fantastic, while the wrong material can take away from all the hard work that’s gone into the build.

This article will discuss two materials frequently used to construct decks, which are ipe wood and composite decking. After reading this article, you will have a much better idea of each product and which one to use in your deck build.

What Is Composite Decking?

Composite decking is a relatively new material, as it was invented towards the end of the 1980s.

This is a manmade product, formed into boards, to create decking platforms. It is called ‘composite’ because there are multiple ingredients within composite decks. For instance, a mixture of wood fibers, plastics, and chemicals can all create this material.

More and more often, builders and homeowners are looking at new materials for their projects. Depending on what your options are, composite decking can be cheaper, longer lasting, lower maintenance, and match your visual needs better.

A lot of composite boards can either be completely or partially capped, meaning 3-4 of the boards’ sides are protected by an outer layer of synthetic material that helps to resist damage and weather. Within the board itself is a different material, such as a wood filler or recycled plastic.

Other types of composite decking include solid and hollow. Solid decks have material that runs through the entire thickness of the board, making them stronger and heavier than other composite decking options.

Hollow decking is much lighter than solid, as the internal area is made in honeycomb patterns or stripes, meaning there are air gaps within the boards. The air gaps mean that the boards are lighter but less resistant to impact. Alongside this, fascia boards and end caps are required for hollow boards, to cover up gaps from cuts.

What Is Ipe?

Ipe is actually referred to by a few different names. If you enter a lumber store and see timber labeled as Brazilian walnut or lapacho, it is ipe. Scientifically, this material is also called handroanthus spp. Within the flooring and decking world, you will most often see it referred to as Brazilian walnut. However, despite the name, ipe is not related to the walnut family.

Originally, the ipe tree was only found and harvested from Central and South American regions. However, as the tree grew in popularity, it started to be farmed commercially in other areas around the world with the right climate. On average, a fully grown ipe tree will reach a height of 130’. The thickness of the trunk can go up to 4’ in diameter as well.

This type of wood has won the respect of most woodworkers that seriously use it for their projects. The reason for this is that ipe adds a lot of positive elements to a woodworking or decking project. However, to use this material and extract its best characteristics, a woodworker must put in a lot of effort. Ipe is very strong and durable, which are great qualities that help decks last a long time, but it also means it’s tough to cut and work with.

Ipe vs. Composite Decking: What Are the Differences?

All of the differences between ipe and composite decking come down to one main factor, ipe is a natural wood and composite decking is manmade. However, we can break down the differences more clearly across strength, appearance, grain, workability, and sustainability.


On the Janka hardness scale, ipe has a very high score of 3,680 lbf. When we look at the crushing strength of ipe, it also has a significant score of 13,600 lbf/sq in. It is more difficult to get an accurate comparison of composite decking, as the strength and durability of the boards will depend on how the product has been manufactured.

For example, a board capped with a strong synthetic material will score much higher than an uncapped soft plastic on the Janka hardness rating.

Appearance and Color

This is where the difference between ipe and composite decking really starts to get interesting. The difference in color and appearance is frequently the most discussed point when comparing natural wood to manufactured alternatives. Some people feel very strongly about natural materials and will see plastic alternatives negatively. However, that doesn’t have to be the case and a lot of composite decks look great.

Ipe’s coloring varies from tree to tree, but it commonly has red and brown tones within the boards. Alongside these main colors, black, olive, and yellow are also present in a lot of ipe decks. Some species will also have areas of yellow powder within them as well.

One of the great benefits of composite decking is that it can be manufactured in many different sizes, styles, shapes, and colors. Visually, this material often gets a bad name for itself, this is mainly because early versions or particularly cheap products did look very artificial and plastic. However, as composite decking has developed, it looks better and better.

One big plus for composite decking is color matching. If a board needs replacing on a natural wood deck that has already aged, the new board will stand out massively. On a composite deck, the board will match perfectly from the outset.

Grain and Texture

Composite decking doesn’t grow, so it will not have any actual grain. However, manufacturers are capable of mimicking grain patterns in the boards to make the composite look more natural. Some products have a limited amount of grain patterns, so it’s important to pay attention and not put any identical boards down near each other so it looks obvious. A positive of no grain is that the composite boards will not give off splinters.

Ipe is known to have a very interesting grain that can be interlocked but is most often straight. Boards of this wood usually have a texture between fine and medium.


As a manufactured material, there are a lot of differences between composite boards and ipe. For example, there is no need to sand and finish composite boards, whereas this is needed with natural wood.

Depending on the type of composite board you plan to use, you will have to change your approach to working with it. Capped and hollow boards must be carefully cut so the outer sealing materials aren’t pierced. Also, because the boards aren’t entirely wood fibers, caution should be used when cutting with woodworking tools.

The boards are designed to be cut easily, however, the plastics and glues within some boards can blunt and chip blades, so test your tools to make sure you’ve got the right ones for the job.

Ipe can also provide its own difficulties to work with because of how strong and durable it is. To work with this material, your tools must be sharp and well set up. If not, you are more likely to get burning, breakout, and rougher cuts.


Ipe is not found in large amounts and, unless it’s specifically commercially grown, it is difficult to source sustainably. In fact, this wood grows in such low density that between 3 to 10 hectares of forest might on average contain one mature ipe tree. Because of it growing in such low density, a lot of other trees are felled in the search for ipe. Despite this, the tree is not featured on any red lists that indicate it is at risk.

On the other hand, people argue that composite decking is a sustainable building material. This is because composite decking is created from recycled materials. However, the plastics that go into the decking, even if recycled, have been created from non-sustainable manufacturing. Alongside this, the plastic in the decks is not biodegradable.

When to Use Composite Decking?

As the name suggests, composite decking is designed as a floor for outdoor structures. Consider using this material when you want minimal upkeep and a range of different colors, sizes, and thicknesses to choose from.

When to Use Ipe Wood?

Ipe is a beautiful timber that lasts a very long time outside. It needs more maintenance and work than a composite deck. However, if looked after, this material brings a lovely feeling to a job. Ipe is used for a number of projects, not just decking, including furniture, trellises, pergolas, gazebos, and fences.

Alternatives to Ipe and Composite Decking

Ipe and composite decking aren’t your only options to build a deck with. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the other options you have. Additionally, you should also check my article about ipe alternatives.


AZEK is another man-made decking alternative. It differs from composite decking because it is primarily made from PVC. This material can be found in a lot of different colors and board types.

Read this article to see how AZEK and ipe compare.


Cedar is a fantastic choice for outdoor uses. The wood has a naturally high oil content which helps to preserve it from moisture and repel insects.

Read this article to see how cedar and ipe compare.


Ipe and composite decking can both create amazing decks. Choosing the right material for your project will depend on availability, price, appearance, and if the material can be sustainably sourced.

Once you understand each of these factors, and what your requirements are, you’ll know which material to use.